Brief Encounter with Vilém Flusser. An Interview
In this interview, Henry Lewis, who originally comes from Australia where he now lives again, speaks about his early interest in photography, the years he spent in France and his relationship to Vilém Flusser. His work as a photographer was not only influenced by other photographers like Man Ray – especially the Rayographs -, Tom Dahos, Jürgen Klauke, Juan Fontcuberta, but also by painters and sculptors like Ellsworth Kelly. Lewis got to know Flusser through Andreas Müller-Pohle whom he had showed his radiographic work and who suggested that he made contact with Vilém Flusser in Robion. Lewis and his wife Christiane visited Vilém and Edith Flusser in the South of France several times. Lewis also talks about Flusser’s influence on his work, the relevance of Flusser’s work thirty years after his death, and the future of photography.
Reflexion. Henry Lewis: X-Räume / Reflexion. Henry Lewis: X-spaces / Henry Lewis, X-Spaces
In 1990, “European Photography” published a text by Vilém Flusser on the work of the photographer Henry Lewis: „Henry Lewis: X-Spaces (41/11, 1990: 46-47). In this essay, Flusser discusses the impossibility to experience space with the eyes. We can only reach as far as the surface of objects, he writes, but radiography penetrates beyond the surface into space. Flusser contends that Henry Lewis is not interested in finding out what is behind the surface, but in making the experience of space visible. He is making pictures of the third dimension.
This text is the third chapter of David Levis Strauss’ Photography and Belief, an examination of past and present convictions about the reality, authenticity, trustworthiness of the photographic image. Following on from considerations of the subjectivity of a photograph as developed by Benjamin, Barthes, and Berger, the photograph’s status as a sign and the implications of its indexicality, this chapter positions photography in a far broader context. For Flusser recognises the photograph as the onset of a shift in human communications as vast as the invention of writing, introducing visual codes that undermine those of alphabetic writing, and opening completely different means of generating and storing information. Although Flusser spoke little of belief as such, he did speak often of doubt. If we accept that doubt is not the opposite of belief, but of certainty, his approach touches continually on questions of belief. For Flusser remains uncertain whether the new society based on technical images – the first being the photograph – will be the most creatively exciting, humane society the world has ever known, or its very opposite, a mindless network of functionaries.
Appareil et caméras chez Vilém Flusser, objections et critique
For Vilém Flusser, apparatus is a term of primary importance. Key to the post-historical age, it tends to designate a programmed functioning within which the players or functionaries, that we will be from now on, are activated. The problem is to define such a notion, Flusser relies on a questionable conception of photography and of the “photographable.” The point of this paper is not to consider, as Flusser puts it, what can be “left for us,” but to consider more optimistically what can be done “with” the new recording devices. Considering that history is not finished, we will propose, following the suggestions of Walter Benjamin, to think of technique as open to a less regulated, freer and potentially more critical understanding.
This is a short interview with Claude Lutz, the founder and director of Édition Circé, which in 1996 published a French translation of Vilém Flusser’s Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie. Three more translations followed: Petite philosophie du design (2002), Essais sur la nature et la culture (2005) and La Civilisation des médias (2006).
Les Rendez-vous manqués. Flusser, la France et la photographie
Flusser was based in France for the last sixteen years of his life. He spoke reasonably good French, but he published very little in France, either books or articles, gave few conferences or lectures, and never became part of French intellectual circles. While some of it may be due to his modest knowledge of French and to his living in a small southern village far away from Paris, the main reason is probably that he was an outsider, not a member of academia and not a thinker who could nicely fit in the “French Theory” dogma. Even after his death he did not attract much interest in French intellectual circles until recently. This essay analyzes this “missed encounter” principally from the viewpoint of photography; it notes however that interest in his concepts has been growing in France for several years, goes on to suggest ways to cultivate and extend this trend.
In L’inter-code, a pseudo-random algorithm controls the appearance of zones of images and zones of text in mutual exclusion over the screen. The images include animations based on 3D models of objects exhibited in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris: astronomical instruments which measure the infinitely big, a cyclotron which probes the subatomic world and above all, photo cameras adapted to the measure of space (photogrammetry). The images also include footages taken by the German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg in 1911 while living with the Taulipang tribe in Brazilian Guyana. The texts where extracted from the work of the philosopher Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of photography, which inspired this work. Strengthened by the soundtrack, this animation opposes Images and Texts in line with the ideas of Vilém Flusser: texts and images confront one another in the representation of the real world. This dialectical relationship, whose synthesis is yet to be discovered, is matched in the video by another opposition: tribal men living in equilibrium with nature, contrasting with the divergences of technical progress. By representing the biased relationship mankind maintains with the real when it is coded by texts and by images, L’inter-code seeks to question photographic image, not as the neutral product of a technique but as a complex construction that embeds a risk: the danger of increasing the distance between mankind and the world he inhabits. L’inter-code questions the possibilities and limits of science and its materialization in technology.
Die Verbesserung von Beobachtung
An artistic theory is different from a scientific one. The artist theorizes by addressing the breaking point of modernity, which is characterized by a change from considering a work to be a conceptual, and considering it to be a physical object. The artist describes this as a part of his art. Vilém Flusser analyzes the camera (the black box) in relation to administrative, economic, political, social apparatuses. Roland Barthes considers pictures from the double perspective of studium (the scanning process) and punctum (the captivating moment). In the present case, the artist’s theory and the photo collages bearing the title Photo Shop Massacre are to be understood in their conceptual intention as an indication of the actual massacre that is taking place around us.
To Save Philosophy in a Universe of Technical Images
Philosophy, origin and apotheosis of the Humanist project, seems to have been surpassed in a world of extreme and ubiquitous automated processes. Automation threatens to truly “taken control”, and subordinate all human activity to the functions inscribed in the machine. The kaleidoscopticon of contemporary culture seems to indicate a return to pre-literate “magical thinking” but it is in fact a product of highly literate scientific, technical literacy. Flusser urges us to encounter the persistent importance of causal, textual thinking at work inside every apparatus to help steer the transformations, which are taking place in ourselves and in our world. Flusser makes this plea alongside a contention that linear, causal, conventional textual practices are no longer adequate to convey our ideas and experience highly in-formed by the new technologies. He exhorts us to use “technical images”. It becomes evident that Flusser’s project is to save philosophy, or restate the importance of philosophical practices, in an age where literacy has gone sub rosa. Using examples from Flusser’s experimental collaborations with artists Louis Bec and Fred Forest, this short essay will attempt to elaborate what Flusser means with philosophical practice, which uses technical images.
"Für eine Phänomenologie des Fernsehens" II: das Schicksal eines Texts und der Wechsel zur Fotografie
Although Vilém Flusser’s text „Für eine Phänomenologie des Fernsehens“ is only 21 pages long there is no other text in his oeuvre that shows the same concern for philosophical and methodological reflection. A first, incompletely elaborated version for the New York symposium in January 1974 was published with a four years delay. However, the definitive version Flusser provided has not been published. A new object of research is superimposed onto the unlucky old enterprise of a theory of television.